Monday, February 10, 2014

Religion and my Grandmother

My parents weren't as religious as my grandmother (my father's mother) would like. Perhaps she thought that if she started early, she could prevent me from falling into their godless ways. One day when I was about four, she said, "Your father says he doesn't believe in god, but in fact he does. If I ask him to kick an idol, will he do it?" This seemed like a convincing argument at the time, but later I decided that the conclusion didn't follow. Respect for a symbol and its cultural associations is not the same as belief.

Around the same time, just to see how I would react, she asked me, "তুমি কি মুসলমান?" ("Are you a Muslim?") I wasn't sure what a Muslim was, or whether I was one, but I hated confessing ignorance. Besides, I had heard adults using the terms "Hindu" and "Muslim", and had formed the vague impression that we were in the former camp. So I responded somewhat emphatically, "না, আমি হিন্দু!" ("No, I'm a Hindu!") This became a popular party piece, and my grandmother took to asking me the question in front of visitors. And because it seemed to amuse them, I would always give the same answer.

This game stopped after a few months, but until I was sixteen or so, when filling up forms which asked my religion, I continued to give essentially the same answer. Even though I didn't believe in reincarnation, the divinity of the Vedas or the existence of a Supreme Being and I didn't observe any Hindu rituals in daily life, on forms I would automatically select "Hindu". I would do so because this was what I had always done, and because my parents were Hindu. When you think about it, this line of reasoning was hardly more sophisticated than that which led me to proclaim to my grandmother all those years ago, "No, I'm a Hindu!"


Sujaan said...

"Respect for a symbol and its cultural associations is not the same as belief." Quite agree with this. I don't remember anyone playing this game with me. Although I doubt my response would have been any different. I think I've stopped committing to any religion in official documents, though. On the other hand, the exposure we got to Hindu mythology from Damma, I'm very, very grateful for. Not taking sides! :D The two accounts just happen to be juxtaposed.

Anonymous said...

Even though my parents were religious, I was atheist early on.

At my first job after college, I had a co-worker who was quite religious and he knew that I was atheist - not that i flaunted, but we used to hang out often, so he was aware. I do not remember details, but one day while I was in his cubicle chatting, he dared me to disrespect Bhagavad Gita, and claimed that severe consequences will follow. So, I took the book, rubbed it against my bulge few times and put it back on the table. He was so shocked that he started screaming and swearing that I would fucking die in under 30 days. I was amused, but there was this small doubt -- what if it really happened?

Nothing happened to me, he did not talk to me for like few weeks, and after few months he sort of had admiration for me which he would bring up occasionally in conversations.

Pratiti Deb said...

I love how my little cousin Rik obsesses over Hindu gods and goddesses, and how I grew up reading about them too, and feel somewhat dreamily enamored of Saraswati every year when Saraswati Pujo comes around. I also love how religion often fosters a sense of community, for instance during bhashan at Baghbazar Sarbojonin, Saraswati Pujo at schools/colleges, etc.

My parents declared me an atheist in my Amar Shoishob(no respect for baby me's personal agency, I tell you), and I don't think I have ever called myself Hindu, though.

I tried to rebel for a while by being pantheistic(mostly Rabindranath-inspired) but then decided I was too science-ey to be anything but atheist.